Be the First to Build a Community Around Your Idea, Brand or Cause

Want to become the unexpected top-of-mind choice? Take a page from how politics is played now. “If the typical Gore (presidential campaign fundraising) event was 20 people in a living room writing six-figure checks, and the Kerry event was 2,000 people in a hotel ballroom writing four-figure checks, this year for Obama we have rallies of 20,000 people who pay absolutely nothing, and then go home and contribute a few dollars online,” venture capitalist, Mark Gorenberg told Joshua Green. In those big crowds, Obama asks people, “to hold up their cell phone and punch in afive-digit number to text their contact information to the campaign to win their commitment right there on the spot.” While not understood at first, the seismic switch to social network-based fundraising started early. (Thanks Ted Hopton for this update.)

One secret to Obama’s fundraising success is the “subscription model.” Here’s how. Just as SalesForce.com replaced their formidable, upfront price with a much smaller monthly charge to “subscribers”, Obama’s campaign invites people to MyBarackObama.com to give a small amount at a time, signing up for monthly giving. Also, the Obama campaign encourages supporters to set up their own web page and affinity group, share it most anywhere, then invite their colleagues and friends to donate and see their online personal “thermometer” rise as network kicks in.In short, they lowered the barrier to participate and offered more bragging rights to those who did.

The results? In February, Green reports, “94 percent of their donations came in increments of $200 or less, versus 26 percent for Clinton and 13 for McCain….” Just that month they raised $25 million – “nearly $2 million a day.” Thus Obama’s huge base of networked individual supporters operate with but not under the professional campaign staff – a power shift in politics. The even bigger power shift? Away from a few big special interests and the usual, rich individual donors and toward the interests of “the many.”

Trying to live up to that high expectation won’t be easy either, but it does change the game of governing.Yes, power and money are flowing towards the groups that go out of their way to involve us “small guys.” Read more on “The Amazing Money Machine” in The Atlantic.

That’s a wake-up call for those who are used to being in charge. Cultivating a community amongst those you seek to serve helps you leapfrog over competing ideas and organizations – even if they have more resources than you.What’s speeding this seismic shift from me to we?

Perhaps three things:

1. Desire for connectedness in an increasingly isolating culture.

2. Preference for greater involvement in decisions that affect our lives.

3. Rapid emergence of free and low-cost social media tools to make “constituency power” the winning option. (Here’s to the power of user-generated networks, done well.)

David Brooks cover another example of this shift. The Conservatives, the British political party that used to be like the U.S. Republican party is winning elections. That’s because, “These conservatives are not trying to improve the souls of citizens. They’re trying to use government to foster dense social bonds.” Brooks adds, “As Oliver Letwin, one of the leading Tory strategists put it: ‘Politics, once econo-centric, must now become socio-centric.’”

Now what if the Conservatives took Obama’s social media step to expand their power? What if they launched a site where citizens could create user-generated networks around the issue that most mattered to them? In this case, citizens (not just politicians) could blog about their hot issues and vote online on options that anyone proposes, with the most popular ideas and advocates gaining the most visibility.

Of course this wide-open approach to participatory democracy is fraught with potential problems. Yet whoever sets up the most efficient and popular online places for citizens to organize around their issues will, inevitably pull power towards them. And the organizations that offer us the most efficient, cost-effective way to create value for each other will over-shadow those that are less “us-centered”. That’s what newspapers discovered as the “people first” Craiglist sucks so much of “their” advertising business to the site that offered a better option for us.

Now Craigslist’s foundation is becoming the go-to place for many activist philanthropists and volunteers who want to be engaged in their cause. “Working on the principle originally espoused by Bill Clinton of ‘Seek first to collaborate and then lead’, (foundation director, Darian Rodriguez Heyman), has almost single- handedly assembled more than 150 partner organizations for what will be a Yellow Pages for the social sector and he is just about to head into Beta phase.”

And a national political party has the same goal in providing social media tools to citizens as the CraigsList Foundation does in designing its beta-stage online community. That is to attempt to be, “hyper-local and global at the same time.”

CraigsList Foundation is like the Obama campaign in that it lowers the barriers for participation – thus attracting more people than its competitors. Each organization benefits by become the go-to place that enables like-minded people to find each other, collaborate to become higher-performing together – for the cause that brought them together.

Again, the Me2We approach beats the old-style, top-down rule of management. Perhaps the Conservative Party could get advice from the Craigslist Foundation on how to establish and facilitate user-generated networks? After all, as Laurance Allen noted over at Value News Network, the foundation has “the secret sauce behind Craigslist.org that has made it the bane of the newspaper industry” that, “gives him the ability to scale ‘better, cheaper, faster’ as the Silicon Valley VC’s like to say.”

In light of this shift toward the power of many – and the groups that bring them together, consider these social media options for your organization:

• How can you reach more people with your compelling message, product, service or other offering – offering something they want before asking for something?

• If your organization charges a hefty price, membership fee or other cost upfront, consider offering, instead, a much lower monthly, pay-as-you-go or “subscription model.”

• Would your cause, company or membership-based group benefit from a move towards user-generated networks?

What is the best and worst-case scenario of enabling those you seek to serve to post opinions, comment on and rate the ideas of others, let the most popular ideas and people gain more visibility – and be assured that there’s a transparent process for the group’s best ideas to be implemented?

Consider starting with a free online social network builder such as Ning.

• How could you collaborate with complementary organizations to share expertise (content, creation of social media tools, co-sponsor events or services, co-create something, etc. – or set up online support for your “customers” to collaborate)?

2 Responses to “Be the First to Build a Community Around Your Idea, Brand or Cause”

  1. Dennis Dilday Says:

    Great article and much to think about. Thanks.

    Dennis

  2. don weil Says:

    great logic – this makes social media very attractive

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with Kare Anderson

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